Whether your little one is starting school for the very first time, attending to a new school or a new division this year, or just getting ready for a different teacher, the beginning of the school year can be filled with anxiety. Change can be scary — for you and for him. Worries about unfamiliar routines, new teachers, unknown expectations and making friends can have kids dreading their first day back.
Here are a few tips to help you help your anxious kids as the school bells begin to ring:
Check that the essentials are looked after. Nobody copes well if he or she is tired, hungry, thirsty, or under exercised. Encourage predictable bedtime routines that provide your child with enough sleep. Be sure your kids are eating well, including nutritious snacks throughout the day. Always have a water bottle handy for kids to hydrate. Get your kids outside, riding bikes, chasing friends, swimming, playing sports — all that good healthy summertime fun. Trust me, winter will be here before you know it — remember the Polar Vortex?
A healthy, rested, well-fed kid will be better prepared to manage his or her anxiety.
Talk about school and try to get your children to articulate how they are feeling. Reassure them that many kids feel worried — and their feelings are totally normal. Point out the positives you see about the upcoming school year: you already have a friend in your class, the school is close to home, you play in the school park all the time, so-and-so’s mom tells me you have a great teacher, fourth grade is one of the best years. It's important to notice the good, especially if your child is doing a great job at picking out the not-so-good.
See if your child can tell you a specific fear that you can deal with (I have no one to sit with at lunch, what if I miss the bus, I might get lost). Listen to the worry, then find out the school routine for managing the situation (the class sits together, a teacher will help you get to the bus on time, you will get a tour of the school on the first day).
If you feel your child’s worries might significantly impact their adjustment to school, set up a time to talk to the school or teacher before the first day. Technically, in my board, we don’t have to be there until the first day, but I personally don’t know of a single teacher who doesn't put in some serious classroom time before Labour Day. The school office will be open the last week of August, so they can help you set up a time with the teacher. Be sure to highlight any learning concerns, behavioural needs or social issues your child might have. Together with the teacher, you can make a plan to ease your child’s transition to the class.
Ah, glorious summer. Later bedtimes, evening BBQs, lazy mornings - life is grand. However, an abrupt snap back to routine won’t do anyone any favours. Start the adjustment early by putting the school routine back in place a week or so before the kids return. Explain that the whole family needs to adjust to the new regime, so your child doesn’t feel alone. For older children (oh glorious adolescence) who may have trouble getting up, have them practice setting and actually answering to their alarm. Placing it far across the room from the bed can be helpful in motivating even the surliest of morning sloths, and can reduce late night texting, if your creature is using a phone for their wake-up call.
Take a trial run before the first school morning. Show your student where the bus stop is or reinforce the safest route to reach the school. If you know it, show them where the class will line up, point out their classroom through the window (sometimes schools do not reveal the students’ classes until the first day, but you can still check out the playground where they’ll find their teacher).
If you know a family in the area that has a student attending the same school, or if your child already knows a friend or two in their class, arrange a playdate. Let the kids hang out together so your son or daughter will see a friendly, familiar face on day one. Maybe there is a neighbour who will be walking the same route or taking the bus with your little one. Using the buddy system can go a long way in reducing anxiety.
You know how you feel great when you’ve bought the perfect outfit? Let your kids help pick out their new backpacks and school clothes. Give them a say in planning the school lunches. Strutting their cool new runners and swinging their awesome lunch box could be just the confidence booster they need - even if those items are an affront to your sense of fashion.
Get as much organized as possible the night before, to avoid a morning rush. Have clothes laid out, lunches made and a healthy breakfast planned. Set alarms for five minutes earlier than you think, and resist the snooze button, so everyone can be up and out the door as calmly as possible.
If your scholar is still young enough to appreciate your company, go with them on the first morning. Walk them to school and help them find their right line or entrance. Introduce yourself and your child to some other parents and to the classroom teacher. Kids can be shy to make the first contact, so help them along the way.
Don’t inundate the teacher with endless questions at this time. Not only will it raise your child’s anxiety, but will probably upset the teacher’s early morning routine that he or she is working hard to establish. You’ll no doubt be getting a slew of forms and information at the end of the day that will answer any of your questions.
If you have an older child who is in the mom-don’t-embarrass-me stage, let the little birdie fly solo. Even is he or she is anxious, your presence will probably only worsen the problem. Spying on them from the bushes is allowed, but only if you are sure you are undetected.
Once your child is safely under the care of the teacher, allow yourself to feel some relief. They made it! Even if it was a tearful goodbye, trust that your little one will be ok. In my experience, the tears usually cease once you are out of sight and most teachers distract the kids with a fun welcoming activity right off the bat. Tonight you will congratulate your superstar on their bravery and ask them the three most exciting things about their school day. But for now, go get yourself a ridiculously high-calorie coffee and put your feet up. You already took the day off work, you bravely said goodbye to your precious wee one and now it’s time for some mummy care!
Transitioning to a new class or a new school is just one of the endless adventures your children will navigate as they grow — show them how to embrace change and enjoy the journey!
Photo adapted from Public Domain, by George Hodan